Geography Guides Davis to Compare Religions

Davis Academy students

By Sarah Moosazadeh

Learning occurs beyond the classroom, says Davis Academy eighth-grade social studies teacher Matthew Barry, who alongside sixth- and seventh-grade social studies teacher Joelle Jordan will teach comparative religion as part of the Reform Jewish day school’s new seventh-grade curriculum.

After collaborating with Assistant Principal Jeff Rothstein, Associate Head of School and Principal Drew Frank and other administrators, Barry and Jordan decided to re-evaluate what seventh-graders should learn. Using curricula taught in high schools and other middle schools, they decided to cover geography, then tackle bigger issues related to religion.

The revamped course includes a unit on human geography, followed by Roman history and its geographical, social, political and economic impact on the world, leading to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with an exploration of historical and geographical perspectives, including the spread of trade routes, inventions and diseases. There also is a separate unit on comparative religion.

The religion course examines key questions regarding today’s popular religions and their foundations, history and traditions, and it draws comparisons with Judaism. The curriculum covers the geography behind each religion’s beginning, how the religions thrive in certain regions and the number of people practicing them in relation to the world population.

“Neither of us has ever taught something like this before, but as a Jewish day school we thought it would be interesting if the kids see outside of the Jewish spectrum,” Barry said.

He has traveled to Israel nine times with eighth-graders to explore historical sites, including Nazareth and mosques, but he felt that students should know more. “Although the kids have some background information on the sites, they need to see and gain greater exposure so they may attain a better understanding of the world around them, especially regarding religiosity.”

Barry said social media often mislead students on religion.

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